The missions of the title give a thematic unity to this dark collection of 15 stories from Busch (North, 2005, etc.), who died last February.
Death haunts this collection. In “I Am the News,” two brothers, one thriving, the other facing ruin, meet after the death of their father, a proud former Marine. Though the successful brother and his father were ideological foes, he respects the Marine ethos and looks out for his kid brother. Another veteran figures in the far more effective “Good to Go.” Patrick, back from Iraq, has just bought a surplus army gun. Can his frantic parents wrest it away from this hard young man they no longer know? “Metal Fatigue” is another small gem. Harold is visiting daughter Linda in a mental hospital after her suicide attempt. Deranged, yet shockingly lucid, she uses another family tragedy, her grandfather’s death, to browbeat her loving dad. That tight focus is missing from the off-key “The Bottom of the Glass,” in which an obese, interracial married couple travels to France to console a distant relative after her second husband’s death. Passionate sex as an antidote to death (the point of “One Last Time for Old Times’ Sake”) is tiresomely delayed by talk about death during a lovers’ final tryst, while in “The Small Salvation,” a middle-aged man’s liberating sexual encounter with a kindergarten teacher is clouded by memories of his wife’s death. In the title story, Edward is a staffer at a Rescue Mission. He knows all about abuse (his mother was killed by an abusive boyfriend) yet his attempt to help a doomed young woman is unavailing. And when, in “The Hay Behind the House,” compassionate Cara travels upstate from New York to save her parents from old age, it’s her mother who saves her from rape.
These stories reaffirm Busch’s familiar vision of good deeds counting for little in a dangerous world.